One of the easiest things in the world to misunderstand (and therefore to misrepresent) is the biblical pattern of imprecatory prayer. It is very easy to interpret the practice as some kind of primitive voodoo doll custom, practiced only by the petty and vindictive. But for those who are open to a very fine treatment of the subject, I would recommend John Day’s book, Crying for Justice. Over the last few years, the fact that we have prayed this way has been seized on by some of our adversaries as proof-positive that we obviously are crazed fundamentalists. But fundamentalism is the practice of absolutizing bits and pieces of Scripture. Liberalism is the absolutizing of other portions. To their credit, the fundamentalists at least knew that the death of Christ on the cross was more important than than Pharaoh offered the Israelites full employment benefits, but the fundamentalist vision is still truncated for all that. But what happens when we submissively come to tota et sola Scriptura? Imprecation is part of it. Below is a sample prayer of imprecation, so those who are wondering if a biblical Christian could ever pray this way can read through one and see for themselves. But I think that the real question needs to be presented to those Christians who never have occasion to pray this way.
Father of Jesus Christ, our gracious God, we cry out to You in a time of trouble. Our adversaries come at us with lies, lies that they delight to tell, fluent lies, as their father tells them, in their native language.
We pray that You would return to them seven-fold, according to all that they have done or said or hoped for, and all according to the promises of Your holy Word. Grant to them shame of face, so that they might turn back to You and seek Your name. We would not be like Jonah, resentful or afraid of Your grace to other sinners, even to those who have sinned grievously against us.
You have taught us, called us, summoned us, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to rejoice when we are mistreated by them, and to return good for evil. We are not to return evil for evil, but rather to overcome evil with good. We accept this and rejoice in it. We know and understand that this is based on Your holy character and example—You give rain and sunlight to the righteous and unrighteous both—and that this is therefore Your standard of holiness for us, and we gladly submit to it. We therefore seek the grace to continue to love our enemies, asking You to save them. Not only would we be saved from their treachery and lies, but we ask that You would save them from their treachery and lies.
In praying this way, we ask that we would be able to distinguish sharply between those who are our personal enemies, and those who are our enemies for Your name’s sake. We pray that we would extend nothing but wholehearted grace to the former, and that we would commit the terrors of strict justice, with regard to the latter, entirely and only to You. We would not be like the disciples who, caught up in their mistaken zeal, did not know “what spirit they were of.” We would ask nothing from You in this that Your Word does not specifically invite us to ask. You are a God who keeps covenant to a thousand generations, and we are asking You to keep Your covenant word. If justice falling on the heads of our enemies is not a promise of covenant justice, Lord, we don’t want to ask for it. But if it is such a promise, we dare not refuse to ask. How long, Lord, will You leave in sin those who mistreat Your people in this way?
If it is not Your sovereign purpose to destroy them through saving grace, we pray that You would humiliate them and give them shame of face regardless. We pray that they would fall into the pit they have purposefully dug for us. We pray that You would turn all their plans and purposes upside down. Like Haman, we pray that they would be hanged on the gallows they have built for Your people. You are the judge of the whole earth; will You not do right? How long will You delay in bringing justice to the earth? Doesn’t it bother You that Your name and Your people are treated this way? We know that You are everlastingly good; why are You silent in that goodness? We know that You have promised to justify and vindicate Your people; rise up, Lord, and scatter Your enemies!
Father, we pray that You would deal with this situation. If it is Your good pleasure to deal with it through saving them, then that is what we would by far prefer, and it is what we ask for. But if it is not Your good pleasure to save them, we ask that You would cut them off in their course of sinning regardless, and that You would not allow their iniquity to come to its full measure. Set limits to Your judgment on them. We pray that You would set limits to that judgment by setting limits to their lies and treachery. We pray, Father, that You would cut them off in the midst of their sin.
We ask that You would deliver us from their snares in a way that showcases Your final and ultimate vindication and justification of us, together with all Your people. We know that we are sinners, and that many just and righteous accusations could be brought against us. For the sake of Christ, we pray that we would be justified concerning all that we have done that is wrong and wicked. But because Christ is our Protector as well as Savior, we pray that we would be vindicated and justified with regard to all that we have not done wrong. You chastise us for our sins, but that is not why these evil men and women attack us—they attack us because we love what is good, and because we trust in You.
Father, we pray that the angel of the Lord would chase them down. We pray that You would set for them a dark and slippery place, and that the angel of the Lord would persecute them there. They have hated us without any just cause at all, and they have devised all their plots without any good reason. We ask You therefore to rise up and defend us. Stand in the pass behind us, and lower Your spear against them. Turn them back from their wicked attacks. Rout them, we pray. Chase them like chaff in a stiff wind. We pray that You would string Your bow, sharpen Your sword, make ready all the instruments of death. Ordain Your arrows to fly against those who persecute the righteous. Make their mischief to roll back on their own impudent heads.
Those who hate us without cause are more than the hairs of our heads, and yet, Lord, we know that You have all those hairs numbered. You number and name, and note, their hatreds. You know our foolishness; You know our sinfulness, and You also know that our sin is not why we are being attacked. Rather it is for Your sake, and our identification with You. Let their table become poisonous to them, let it become a snare. Let their eyes be darkened, and judicial blindness fall upon them.
We pray that their eyes would be blinded by You; strike them so that they cannot see. Father, we pray that You would make their loins shake continuously, that they would be seized with fear and amazement. Pour out hot indignation all over them; take hold of them tightly in Your wrathful anger. May their dwellings become empty and desolate—for whenever You chastise anyone else, they love to pile on as though You were not there. They persecute the one that You are disciplining, and by their talk they dismay the one who is suffering under Your hand. Add iniquity to their iniquity; make a great heap of their sins. Do not let them enter into Your righteousness. Blot them out of the book of the living. Do not record their names alongside the names of the righteous.
God of our praise, do not hold Your peace. The mouths of the wicked and the mouths of the deceitful have joined in chorus together, and they are speaking against us with lying tongue. They are surrounding us with words of hatred, and they fight against us without good reason. It is because we love You that they are our adversaries, but we still give ourselves to prayer. Not only have we incurred their hostility by loving You, but we have also loved them, and have been treacherously betrayed by them. They returned evil for good, and hatred for love, ingratitude for kindness.
Let these wicked men come under the rule and reign of wicked men. Let Satan be continually at their right hand, accusing them. When they come into judgment, when the trial comes, we pray that the verdict of guilty would be rendered. When they cry out to You, let their prayers be reckoned as sinful. When they pray to You, let the ceiling above them remain silent. Cut short their days. When they have abused offices within Your Church, let other faithful men rise up to take their place.
Let their children be orphaned, cut off without a father. Let their wives be widows, and we pray that their children would be desolate, having to beg their bread in empty places. We pray that the extortioner would come back at them, catching them in their plots, and taking all that they have. May strangers and aliens pillage them and leave them with nothing. We pray that when this happens, and Your hand is evident, that no one would show mercy, and that no kindness would be extended to his fatherless children. Cut off his posterity; may his name and his line come to nothing. Recall how sinful his father was, and call up again the sins of his mother. May their sins come before Your throne continually so that their name may be blotted out, and remembered on the earth no more.
We ask for this because he is merciless. He loved to kick the poor and downtrodden, and sought to kill the broken-hearted. He loved cursing, and so give him that cursing. He detested blessing, so let blessing remain far away from him. He would put on curses like a comfortable coat; let those curses of his seep into him deeply. Tie those curses around him permanently. Let this be the clothing of all our enemies.
Let them curse, so long as You bless. When they get up in the morning, and hear of the blessings You have bestowed on us, let them be greatly ashamed. Let confusion cover over them completely, as though it were a mantle. I pray that You stand at our right hand, and that You would always save us from those who would condemn our souls.
We offer this pray to You in the righteous and holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and amen.